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A living movie

Instantaneous vision

The sages teach us that Balaam could capture the one instant in the day when God is wrathful. When Balaam succeeded in cursing a nation at that instant, he could successfully bring about their downfall.

Unlike our regular sixty-minute hour, the Torah divides an hour into 1,080 parts and every part of an hour into seventy-six instants. Thus, each instant is approximately one twenty-third of a second.

In our subjective experience, an instant relates to our ability to visualize a single moment in time. Indeed, for the human brain to register the projection of frames in a movie as a moving continuum, the frames must be projected faster than twenty-three frames per second. Persistence of vision blends the frames together, producing the illusion of a moving image. Accordingly, in Hebrew, a synonym for “instant” (רֶגַע) is “an eye-wink” (הֶרֶף עַיִן). From here, the distance is not so far to a theory of discrete time quanta…

Cut!

One Chassidic innovation regarding time is that in His great kindness, God reproduces creation at every moment. As the actors and the audience in God’s ongoing “movie,” things move too fast for us to note each individual frame and we experience creation as a continuous flow. If we could capture the space in-between the individual frames of life’s movie, we would discover the “nothingness” that lies hidden in the background and we could literally see creation coming into being at every moment.

Balaam prided himself on the fact that he could see the empty spaces in between frames, claiming, “I am the man with the open eye.” Indeed, the sages teach us that he had an outstandingly evil eye. He was the master-visionary who could observe any nation or individual, freeze the movie of their existence, and focus on their darkest elements. Balaam was thus capable of finding the blemish, the worst part of whatever he looked at, emphasizing it out of proportion until all else disappeared from view.

The profound teaching that “God is wrathful every day,” implies that everything has its bad points. Nonetheless, God has limited His wrath to no longer than an instant and as such, it usually remains indiscernible. Yet, with his one supersensitive evil eye, Balaam was able to discern it.

Lights, camera, action!

But, when it came to the Jewish people, Balaam was in for an [un]pleasant surprise. When he zoomed in between frames, he could see no darkness, no sinister conniving, nothing negative at all! Instead, he was repeatedly confronted with the fact that God loves the Jewish people under all circumstances and (annoyingly for Balaam) ignores all our flaws.

Kabbalah teaches us that God created the world by first contracting His Infinite Light which completely filled the universe. Balaam was able to tune into this dark spot that preceded reality. However, Chassidut teaches us that the contraction of God’s light is not to be taken literally and the truth is that there are no dark spaces in-between frames. At least as far as the Jewish people are concerned, Balaam’s attempt proved that they are always in touch with God’s infinite light itself.

Photo by Jakob Owens on Unsplash

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